By Rob Jones and Steve Medcroft
Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa suffered her first real adversity in the Fort William world cup cross-country race last weekend. No, it wasn't illness, bad weather or an overwhelming competitor that pushed her into an uncharacteristic fourth place. The seemingly unbeatable double World Champion fell to simple mechanical problems.
Dahle-Flesjaa went to the front at the start of the women's race as usual, but when the leaders came through at the end of the lap, the blue jersey of the world cup leader was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) had a 40-second lead over Nina Göhl (Dahle-Flesjaa's teammate) and Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon).
Dahle-Flesjaa had flatted, and then found out after changing the tube that her air cartridge didn't work. So, she had to make a two kilometre run to the tech zone. "I lost many spots, I think I heard 59th or 60th when I got going again." For the remainder of the six-lap race, Dahle-Felsjaa worked her way through the field and managed fourth place by the end calling it, "my strongest effort this year. I felt so good out there all day today."
Göhl won after Premont faded off her leading pace and Margarita Fullana Riera (Spiuk) finished third.
The story of the men's race was not so much who won (Julien Absalon, Bianchi - Agos, took his third World Cup in a row) but the American in fifth place. Right from the gun, a group of ten riders distanced themselves from the rest of the field. American cross-country National Champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher) was there along with Absalon, Bart Brentjens (Giant), Christoph Sauser (Specialized), and others.
When Absalon made a push to get away from the group on the third lap, only Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) Hermida and JHK could respond. Aware that he couldn't maintain the pace of the front group, JHK dropped back to a chase group containing Sauser, Brentjens, Vogel, Milatz, Cedric Ravanel (Lapierre), U23 series leader Nino Schurter (Swisspower) and Ludovic Dunau (Pro).
He held onto the leaders from the chase group even after it broke apart and finished fifth after a three-way sprint with Brentjens and Vogel. The American considers his fifth place here among the best of his career. "I took a big step forward today; I was in the mix with the big guys all day," Horgan-Kobelski said after the race. "This is definitely one of my best results."
After muddy heats in which success out of the starting gates proved critical, current world champions Jill Kintner and Michael Prokop continued their dominance of the four-cross series; Kintner ahead of Jana Horakova (Cze), former U.S. National Champion Tara Llanes (Giant) and Katrina Miller (Aus) and Prokop in front of Brian Lopes (USA), Chris Kovarik (Aus) and Mickael Deldycke (Fra).
British riders gave the partisan crowd something to cheer about in the women's downhill, with Tracy Moseley (Kona Les Gets) and Rachel Atherton finishing 1-2 in the women's race. Moseley qualified fastest by 10 seconds, and then proved that it wasn't a fluke by winning the final by over seven and a half seconds.
Compatriot Rachel Atherton, who had qualified fifth, had a big improvement over the two rides, knocking 10 seconds off her time, as did Sabrina Jonnier in third, taking 15 seconds off her qualifying run.
Aussie Sam Hill won the men's downhill race (see below).
Check out the results, photos and race reports here: